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Marriage Confidential – Book Review

Pamela Haag.

The catchy yet tabloidy titled work, Marriage Confidential is better represented by its sub-title “The Post-Romantic Age of Workhorse Wives, Royal Children, Undersexed Spouses and Rebel Couples who are Rewriting the Rules”. Now that is a title: smart, intriguing and just part of the reason why this book is really worth reading cover to cover.

Marriage Confidential takes a look at a phenomenon of modern marriage – being low conflict but estranged, perhaps disappointing – and it surveys a range of alternatives that couples have come up with in order to survive the pressure, the tedium, sometimes the impossibility of this contemporary couplehood.

Pamela Haag has a captivating style of writing, so this, together with an intriguing subject, equals a great read. She even goes as far as weaving her own story in between the tens of narratives that turn her ideas into relate-able tales. It is her own marriage, a low-conflict, somewhat ambivalent relationship, that gives her credence as she discusses how the epidemic of similar relationships are leading people to explore and to choose as unorthodox lifestyle.

I wasn’t surprised to find the chapters on marital deception or on internet-based relationships; I was even expecting to read about polyamory. And yet, I enjoyed some refreshing perspectives on these more obvious ideas; for example, we can debate the ethics of cheating on a spouse and we can try to understand the extenuating circumstances, but enough has been said about this, even if we consider modern technology and accessibility. I was, though, enlightened by her coverage of the notions of deliberately downward mobility, alternative habitats and other tools to break through the banality of modern post-romantic marriage.

A great example of her insight is how Haag relates a point about Hillary Clinton that goes beyond the usual indictments of the betrayer/ betrayed/ unsatisfied/ unsatisfying stereotypes. “In Hillary Clinton’s case, especially, I always got the sense that she was groping awkwardly to find the expected “pro-social” script about infidelity to serve up for us, one that she didn’t entirely feel that deeply in her heart. I kept thinking, and perhaps fantasizing, that she might say a true thing, or what I imagined was a true thing. She’d say something along the lines of “my husband’s a tomcat but he’s brilliant and fascinating – and so am I – and I’m in love with him. We have a mission together, and a child, and an astonishingly exciting life and sexual fidelity isn’t really the most important thing about it.” But you can’t say that sort of thing, not really. Even so, I think we all intuited easily enough that they had something a touch transgressive – and post-romantic – in their sexual rules of marriage. And, because we suspected this, Hillary Clinton was accused redundantly of having a “fake” marriage, a “warped” marriage” and of not having “A Real Marriage,” and even had to reassure voters explicitly that she did.” (p179)

Although I was unable to agree with all her arguments, and found some points to be a stretch, the wit with which they are presented kept me hanging on, wondering what could be next

In a time of marital realism and constant redefinition of ourselves as women, partners and sexual beings, Marriage Confidentiality is an unexpected comforter. Even the reader with a primarily successful relationship will find herself nodding in agreement and rereading parts which leave her feeling like someone understands the frustration that is so intrinsic to a love (and sometimes dislike) relationship.

Features

    • Discusses various unorthodox strategies for surviving marriage
    • Based on extensive interviews with friends and contacts
    • Uses her own marriage as material
    • Written by a historian and writer
    • Humorous and personable style

 

Publisher

Harper Press, 2011.

Dinah Rates      


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